Buck Owens: 10 songs in honor of his birthday
83 years ago today, Buck Owens, originally Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr., was born in Sherman, TX, just months before the onset of the Great Depression. As the story goes, he assigned himself the name "Buck" at the age of four - his family owned a mule by the name of Buck, and he decided he wanted to be Buck, too. It was thus that Buck's awesomeness began - dig it.
From there, his family moved west as many Depression/Dust Bowl-era families did, with Buck eventually ending up in Bakersfield, CA, a move that influenced his sound as it did many others of the area - Merle Haggard and the Strangers, the Maddox Brothers and Rose - that sound eventually influencing artists ranging from Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers to Dwight Yoakam. In the late 1950s, Buck met his future Buckaroos bandleader, Don Rich, who played an essential role in creating the band's sound, with freight-train rhythms and impeccable harmonies.
What else is cool about Buck Owens? His first big hit, "Under Your Spell Again" managed to compete with Ray Price's own version, who was then a pop-country superstar force-not-to-be-reckoned-with-by-some-kid-who'd-named-himself-after-a-mule, both hitting the Top 5 in the same year. The Beatles, Buck's label-mates, had it written into their contract that they were to receive a copy of each of Buck's albums when it came out, and they early-on recorded a cover of his hit "Act Naturally" (the first song to hit both the country and pop charts, and a song Ringo would reprise as an 1989 duet with Buck, making him the only post-Beatles Beatle to score a hit on the country charts). All this, and he co-hosted Hee Haw with Roy Clark for 17 hears. Shoot!
But the thing that makes me saddest about Buck Owens? On July 17, 1974, after completing work at Buck's Bakersfield studio, Don Rich lost control of his motorcycle, hit a guard rail on Highway 99, and was killed. According to Buck, "He was like a brother, a son, and a best friend. Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder is gone forever." Aww, buddy. And it was true, something changed about the music post-Rich (see below, song No. 10, a little ditty about Buck's love, a woman who works at a hot dog stand. Uhhhhh...).